Species Profile – Rainbow Trout

Tue, October 25, 2016 | Lakes and Parks

Scientific Name: Oncorhynchus mykiss; synonyms Salmo mykiss; Salmo gairdneri

Common Name(s): Rainbow Trout; Many names for subspecies (e.g. Steelhead, Golden)


The rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) is easily distinguished from similar trout. Rainbow trout in Arkansas typically range from 9 – 12 inches in length and weight 0.3 – 0.5 lbs. However, individuals weighing 2 – 4 lbs are common with the current state record at 19 lbs 1 oz (White River). The rainbow trout has a moderately large mouth extending to the rear of the eye. The tail fin is slightly forked. The top of the fish is typically a shade of olive green with dark, while the belly is much lighter. Many dark spots cover the body. The mid-line of the fish has a pinkish or reddish streak from gill flaps to tail. Like all trout, the rainbow trout has an adipose fin, which is a small fleshy projection on the back, just in front of the tail fin.


The rainbow trout is native to the western coast of North America where it inhabits both coastal waters and freshwater river systems from Southern Alaska to Northern Mexico. The species has been stocked extensively across the United States and many other countries across the world.


The Rainbow Trout is a cold water fish, and cannot tolerate water much over 72°F for any considerable length of time.  In states with warmer waters, rainbow trout have to be stocked annually to each fall or winter to replenish those that succumb to high temperatures in summer.  In Arkansas, this fish does well in the cold tail-waters of larger reservoirs and, deep cool reservoirs if oxygen is not a limiting factor.

Natural spawning is limited in Arkansas, because of the warmer waters. When spawning does occur, it happens in swift gravely riffles. Females dig shallow pits, lay their eggs in the pits, and then cover the pits with gravel while the males fertilize the eggs. The eggs and young fish receive no parental care.

Rainbow trout consume aquatic and terrestrial insects, small fish, snails, and crustaceans.

In many states, the Rainbow Trout is considered to have negative impacts on native ecosystems, eating many native fish, or out-competing them for food resources. They also hybridize readily with rarer trout species including golden trout, lowering the genetic integrity of endangered populations.

Special Notes Concerning Lake Brittany:

Here in Bella Vista, rainbow trout are stocked in Lake Brittany during the winter months.  This program has a dedicated following of hard core winter fishers that consistently see payoff for their efforts.  Without giving away too many of their secrets, success can be had by fishing off of the docks or on the bank of the dam in winter with a rooster tail or power bait. Typically very few trout survive the summer, but those that are willing can sometimes find a few at depths of at least 25 feet where the water is colder from June through September.

Stocking in Lake Brittany typically starts in early November and continues monthly through April. The first stocking of the season is tentatively scheduled for November 10th.